ATLANTA — The Fulton County School System is entering the final year of its five-year building program in better shape financially and operationally than expected.
“What a climb we've had and we're almost at the top,” said Louis Mosley, interim director of operations for the district. “The good news is I have a message of promises made and promises delivered.”
Under Capital Plan 2022 which kicked off in June 2017, Mosely said 88 of the district’s 105 schools will have been “touched” in some way, either through building upgrades, technology improvements, safety equipment or combinations of all.
The $980 million capital plan is funded primarily through the 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which was renewed by voters for a fourth time in June 2017 and runs through June 2022. The current SPLOST was initially projected to raise $940 million over the five-year period.
Within Capital Plan 2022, the North Fulton region saw the construction of two new schools, Innovation Academy in Alpharetta and the replacement of Crabapple Middle School in Roswell. Both are set to open to students this fall.
Other construction projects in the region include renovations or additions at five area high schools, redesigned media centers at nine middle schools, and playground upgrades at three elementary schools.
Older schools also received roof replacements and fire alarm upgrades, which Mosley said is critical in keeping everything inside the building in optimal condition.
“Quite a bit of the work is what people cannot see, [because] it’s the infrastructure behind the scenes,” Mosley said. “But these are key components of maintaining your facility and protecting investments.”
The pandemic hit the construction industry hard, with projects put on hold initially, then gradually reopening with a tighter labor pool, new safety precautions and social distance mandates that slowed progress and increased budgets.
Mosley said the district had budgeted a 5 percent overage in the construction budget, but during the pandemic the costs rose in some areas up to 15 percent. Careful planning and budgeting by district planners, along with an unexpected rise in revenues, helped weather the storm.
“COVID-19 had a really strong impact on what have we done, [and required] significant fiscal oversight responsibilities,” Mosley said. “So, kudos to everybody in the planning phase because through that we've been able to be more successful.”
In addition to construction projects, Capital Plan 2022 also includes upgrades and enhancements to technology, safety and security and transportation initiatives.
Technology upgrades kicked into high gear last spring when the system went to remote instruction because of the pandemic. While many students already had school-issued devices, the district had to ensure all students had access.
“Technology touches everything in the district,” Mosley said. “It wasn’t always that way, but it is that way now and will continue to be that way.”
The focus was on security and stability of the network, and more than tripling the capacity of the bandwidth to support an all-virtual learning environment.
Capital Plan 2022 also includes security camera upgrades in all schools. Already, 77 schools have been retrofitted, with the remaining schools slated for completion next year. Cameras will also be installed in school buses, which are increasingly transitioning to propane fuel as opposed to diesel.